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Portuguese Pavilion Under Controversy Before Venice Biennale

Over the last week, the Portuguese Pavillion at the upcoming Venice Biennale was a hotspot of controversies.

The issue erupted after curator Bruno Leitão, in an open letter, claimed that the artist selection process for the pavilion was not fair and transparent. He further claimed that the process, which selected Lisbon-based artist Pedro Neves Marques, was ‘riddled with inconsistencies. Leitão is the founder of the Hangar-Artistic Center in Lisbon.

All pavilions for the Venice Biennale go through a selection process for the artists. However, in Portugal, instead of the museums and galleries, it is the curators who forward artist names for the selection. In November, the jury of four announced that Pedro Neves Marques was selected for the Portuguese pavilion at the Biennale, which will open in April next year.

Artist Grada Kilombo

Bruno Leitão had proposed the name of internationally-acclaimed artist Grada Kilomba. Kilomba’s works have been appreciated in numerous places, including the Berlin Biennale and the Amant Art Space in Brooklyn. For the Venice Biennale, Kilomba was planning to work on writings about decolonization. She was also to work on three videos that would represent racism as an ‘open wound’. However, things became messy when Nuno Crespo, one of the jury members, rejected the proposal, saying that the concept of racism as an open wound has been done numerous times.

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While Kilomba was reportedly bound by the selection rules to openly comment on this, Leitão minced no words. He decried Crespo’s words as “problematic” and “unacceptable”. However, Leitão also added that his efforts are not just for this one artist, but for the entire selection process itself.